Tuesday, September 10, 2019

New Releases: The Testaments, Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?, Talking to Strangers, and The Years That Matter Most

It’s September and that means every week at the bookstore is a heavy release week. Our receiving room is packed to the rafters with new titles, and yes, that includes Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments, that book that Amazon accidentally sent out to 800 customers. Our books went on sale today - more in this Vox article. So in other words, none of us have read the new book yet, but we did have a preorder program where you could get a Testaments tote bag with purchase. I think they are all taken through preorders.

Similarly, W.W.Norton had a program where you could preorder a signed copy of Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions from Tiny Mortals about Death. According to our buyer Jason, those copies have also all been accounted for. But the good news is that Caitlin Doughty will be at the store to sign more copies when she interviews Landis Blair, who illustrated From Here to Eternity. He’s coming to Boswell on Sunday, October 20, 3 pm for The Envious Siblings: And Other Morbid Nursery Rhymes. If you like Edward Gorey, or maybe even the darker depths of Struwwelpeter, you will love this book, just like Chris, my fellow marketeer. This one is free with registration at landisblairmke.bpt.me.

One highly anticipated nonfiction release is Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About People We Don’t Know, his first book since David and Goliath in 2013. I still recall with fondness our sold-out event at UWM’s Zelazo Center where he showed us the Gladwell method for super-fast signing. This book is also his first since the Revisionist History podcast, which has rarely had an uninteresting episode (I think the McDonald’s French Fry segment was a rare fail – I could spent a whole blog post discussing this, but I won’t) and has a bit more of a social justice bent than his books do. Would his newest be more like his previous books or more like the podcast?

Being that the thesis is set up bookended by the well-known incident involving a minor traffic violation that escalated to jail and suicide, I thought it would be a little more like the podcast. But his thesis, which deals with reading and understanding those strangers in the book’s title, does play off his previous works, most notably Blink. Through a series of stories, Gladwell lays out the argument that we are wired to believe folks, but we are particularly bad at misreading liars who act like they're telling the truth, or worse, truth tellers. who for whatever reason, appear to be lying.

Is Gladwell going to give you all the answers to make you a better judge of character? One notable story in the book talks about how politicians made better judgments about Hitler if they didn’t meet him than if he did. I’m not going to give anything away, but after reading the book, we were doing a series of job interviews, and I said to Amie and Jason, “Why are we even bothering? We’ll probably make just as good decisions looking at the resumes." But looking at resumes gives you far less info than say, reading a series of articles and position papers about Hitler’s motivations in Europe, particularly if the resumes are dolled up.

One of my favorite Gladwell podcasts was part of his series on education, most notably why Vassar has such bad food and what that says about higher education. You really should actually listen to it now if you haven’t already.  If you liked this series, you will love Paul Tough’s The Years that Matter Most: How College Makes or Breaks Us. Since the release of How Children Succeed, Tough’s work has been championed by educators, but I wound up not reading it, despite the enthusiasm of my fellow bookseller Hannah, and the fact that I had a shelf of education narrative books in my home. Maybe soon.

For his new book, Tough followed a number of students for several years as they navigated the college process. At the same time, he looked at all the aspects of admission from college tests and the rise of testing services, the increasing importance of US News and World Report rankings and how that as affected college policy and unofficial behavior, and what kind of support when students (notably first gens) not prepared for the atmosphere of a super-competitive college get or don't get when they arrive.

I really loved this book; it brought back memories of reading a book by Jacques Steinberg’s The Gatekeepers, which followed admissions officers and guidance counselors through the admissions process. Now I don’t think that will sell the book for most of you, but I think it’s fair to say that Tough’s book is fairly compared to Evicted, in which he blends policy and storytelling together. Read "What College Admissions Officers Really Want" in The New York Times Magazine.

Boswell and University School of Milwaukee are partnering for a Paul Tough talk on October 15. It’s free, but you do have to register at usmk12.org/tough. This is going to fill up so please don’t wait until the last minute.

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